In this report I propose that two recent evolutions in the intersection between scientific research and the creative arts have generated tools which could potentially facilitate broader and deeper engagement between Australia’s government and its people.
Experiential Futures and Systems Gaming are emerging fields that combine the insights of a scientific discipline (Futures Studies and Systems Science, respectively) with techniques and aesthetics taken from a rich mix of creative artforms including film, theatre, visual art and game design.
- Experiential Futures uses the tools and techniques of the arts to manifest tangible elements from hypothetical futures in the present day, in order to stimulate a more rigorous and holistic discussion around planning and preparing for the future.
- Systems Gaming creates interactive scenarios for participants to explore the behaviour of real-life complex systems such as farms, businesses, forests or cities.
Although the two strands of work evolved separately and from different origins, there are some instructive similarities between them.
In both cases, my argument is the same: systems scientists and futurists have developed valuable theoretical tools to help in understanding and responding to the complex issues facing our society.
These insights and methods have broad applications but do not require specialist training to understand or make use of.
In both cases, these tools have been eagerly adopted by policy-makers and private businesses, to enrich their planning and strategy processes. There is no reason why they could not be equally valuable to the general public; except that up until the present time, there have been no channels through which these ideas can spread outside the scientific community.
Experiential Futures and Systems Gaming emerged when futurists and systems scientists began to adopt methods and tools from the creative arts to help communicate their work.
As these scientists began engaging artists on projects – first as consultants, then as collaborators – new ideas and possibilities began to emerge.
The principles and practices of these scientific disciplines meshed with the particular aesthetics and approaches of the artists, and prompted new and novel directions to explore.
In both instances, the intersection of the scientific field with the arts has resulted in a new hybrid form, where the key insights from the science discipline are manifested in distinctive performances, films, installations and games.
In other words, the combination of science and arts has, in these two instances, resulted in provocative creative works that are nevertheless rigorously grounded in science.
The success of these hybrid forms is particularly surprising when you consider the barriers that often mitigate against effective science-art collaboration, which I will discuss in Chapter 5.
Between them, these fields have generated:
- Tools to help us construct a positive, rather than reactive, vision for our future, to articulate where we want to go as a country in the context of what the possibilities are.
- Tools to help us frame and analyse the complex problems we face in a useful context, and with an understanding of the bigger picture they’re part of, rather than piecemeal and one at a time as they are presented to us.
Practitioners in these fields are already engaging audiences in constructive, scientifically-informed dialogue around complex issues, and eliciting meaningful contributions from a wide variety of community stakeholders. There is now strong potential for these activities to be disseminated more broadly and in a range of social contexts.